The American Society for Microbiology made numerous changes to its 2011 General Meeting—and they didn’t stop once the meeting was over.
Attendeeswhotakethetimetofilloutanannual meeting evaluation may wonder what, if any- thing, will change as a result of their responses. That’s because they are rarely informedabouthow their feedback—good andbad—will actually be taken into consideration for the next annual meet- ing. But that is exactly what the American Socie- ty for Microbiology (ASM) did, once its 111th General Meeting, asm2011, concluded in New Orleans last spring. Three months after the late-May conference,
more than 8,000 attendees—primarily scientists from 72 countries—received an email from the chair and vice chair of the General Meeting Pro- gramCommittee, letting themknowthat they had
feedback and resulting changes in strategy except through internal channels—and Connie L. Hern- don, ASM’s director of meetings and exhibits, acknowledges thatASM’s post-event transparen- cy “does not necessarily work for all meetings. I do not think a lot of people do it.” In ASM’s case, sharing positive and negative feedback with all attendees“workedfor us becausewewere rebuild- ing our  meeting,” she said.“We changed everything from soup to nuts.” With such sweeping changes,ASMwas inter-
ested in learningwhether certainnewinitiatives— such as shaving a half-day from the meeting and decreasing the number of sessions in order to limit topic redundancy—were well received and
“I never thought anybody read these. Thank you for sharing.”
begun the process of planning asm2012 by review- ing the 1,400 responses they had received to asm2011’s online survey. The email wentonto say: “We were pleased to learn that many of you were appreciative ofmanynewaspects introduced at the meeting but we were also interested in the areas you highlighted for improvement.” The email identified those new aspects of the
meeting that attendees had rated highly, while giv- ing equal space to those areas they felt came up short—such as insufficient networking opportu- nities and time to view poster presentations. ASM’s follow-up email also detailed what
kinds of changes would be made to next year’s meeting format as a direct result of attendee feed- back. For example, asm2012 will have more ses- sions on areas of interest that survey respondents had felt were underrepresented at asm2011, and longer hours in the Poster Hall for presentation viewing and networking. Most associations do not share that kind of
should continue at asm2012, to be held on June 16–19 in San Francisco. Herndon was not surprised to get insightful
feedback, becauseASM’sGeneral Meeting survey response rates have traditionally been high — between 20 and 25 percent. She said:“We actual- ly do pretty good, but I think [it’s because] our attendees are pretty opinionated.” What she did not expect was such a positive reaction to the sur- vey’s follow-up email. “We got a lot of com- ments,” she said, along the lines of “‘I never thought anybody read these.Thank you for shar- ing, I seemycomments were covered in your feed- back.’ One email reply simply had ‘Nice!’ in the subject line.” The follow-up email “was a simple process,”
Herndon said, “and it just seemed like a natural progressionof allof theother changes thatwe had made to the meeting. But it was so extremely well received that we will probably make it stan- dard operating procedure from now on.”
32 pcmaconvene January 2012 ILLUSTRATION BY MICK WIGGINS
High Marks for Trying ASM’s Connie Herndon said the one area of attendee- survey feedback that most surprised her had to do with the launch of the General Meeting’s mobile app. “It was the first time we had ever done that,” she said, “so obviously ... you are going to have some glitches when you launch any new prod- uct.” Despite those snags, attendees gave the app a thumbs-up. “The feedback that we got was interesting in that it said basically, ‘You are not quite there yet, but this was a really great addition to the meeting, and here are some suggestions of how you can improve it,’” Herndon said. “So people rated it really high, but they had lots of constructive criti- cismto give us.”
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.
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